GAINESVILLE -- Gainesville football may be the new kid on the block in Region 8-AAAAA, but the Red Elephants let it be known on Friday that the road to league title may well run through City Park.
Facing last year's Region 8-AAAA co-champ Heritage, Gainesville pounced on a 14-0 first quarter lead and cruised the rest of the way, 42-14 at City Park.
"This is great, but we can't start thinking we've arrived," Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller said. "The guys played great tonight, but we have to keep working and focusing on the next step."
The Red Elephants' spread offense torched a previously stingy Heritage defense -- which came into the contest allowing just over 5 points per game -- for 475 yards, including 379 total yards from quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Meanwhile, the Gainesville defense held the Patriots to 223 yards, dominating the ballgame early -- Heritage managed just 63 first half yards.
"We wanted to come out and play smashmouth early, bust them in the mouth and keep swarming to the ball," Gainesville linebacker Devon Stringer said. "Everybody did their job tonight and kept doing their jobs."
Offensively Gainesville (4-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAAAA) needed a little more time to get going against Heritage than in its previous two region games (which the Red Elephants won by a combined 131-20) -- but it still didn't take long for Gainesville to stamp its authority on the contest. The Red Elephants even punted on their first possession. But after forcing a punt from the Patriots (4-1, 3-1), Gainesville fired right back, as Watson connected with Rodney Lackey for a 34-yard touchdown pass with 6:55 left in the first quarter -- Lackey went on to catch four passes for 110 yards.
The initial score ignited Gainesville, which -- after stuffing Heritage again on defense -- connected on another long pass play for a score, this time Watson hitting Leverette for a 20-yard gain that the senior turned into a 67-yard touchdown with 5:16 left in the quarter.
"After the first two scores we knew we were rolling, but we had to just keep going," said Watson, who completed passes to seven different receivers. "We didn;t look at the stats coming into this game; we just worked on doing the small things well, and that showed tonight."
Heritage regained its composure for a while, holding the Red Elephants short on a fourth-and-five at the Patriot 20 in the second quarter. But Gainesville's spread attack continued to give Heritage fits -- even when backed up.
Taking control at its own 1-yard line late in the half, Watson hit Lackey for a 69-yard completion. Six plays later, Watson bulled into the end zone from one yard for a 21-0 lead with 3:09 before halftime.
As impressive as the Red Elephants offense looked, its defense proved even better, stuffing Heritage's ground game for much of the first half -- the Patriots crossed into Gainesville territory just once, reaching the Red Elephants' 43 before punting just before the interval.
Heritage did find some offensive traction in the second half after inserting Isaiah Spencer at quarterback. The new signal caller connected with receiver Cedrick Davenport for touchdown passes of 19 and 47 yards. But the scores were far too late to trouble Gainesville, which took advantage of two Patriot turnovers in the second half to help score two of their three touchdowns over the final 24 minutes.
Chandler Newton picked off a double pass attempt from the Patriots, while the Red Elephants also pounced on a fumbled punt return to help maintain their control of the contest.
Watson added a 21-yard scoring run and a 19-yard pass to Caleb Hayman in the second half, while Tray Harrison also scored on a two yard run. Red Elephants running back Michael Byrd enjoyed a strong night, carrying 11 times for 87 yards.
Myron Fears led Heritage's rushing attack with 44 yards on 11 carries.
"This was great, but we don't want to get too excited," Watson said. "We've got to put this in the past too and just keep working."
The Red Elephants travel to face Cedar Shoals next week.
Heritage..........0....0....7....7 -- 14
Gainesville....14....7....7...14 -- 42
GHS -- Lackey 34 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 6:55, 7-0
GHS -- Leverette 67 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 5:16, 14-0
GHS -- Watson 1 run (Turner kick) 3:09, 21-0
GHS -- Hayman 25 pass from Watson (Turner kick) 7:48, 28-0
HER -- Davenport 19 pass from Spencer (Kulp kick) :59, 28-7
GHS -- Watson 21 run (Turner kick) 10:44, 35-7
HER -- Davenport 47 pass from Spencer (Kulp kick) 8:18, 35-14
GHS -- Harrison 2 run (Campo kick) 5:26, 42-14